Story Contest 2018 #1 Results » Highly Commended - Still Swimming
“Still Swimming” by Jazmin Romero-Martinez, USA, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2018.
The water was colder than I first anticipated. Jumping in felt like slipping on ice at the ice rink, but I needed to practice. Tiny bubbles tickled my body as I swam up to the surface, popping as they floated upward, “Bend your back a little more Serenity”, said my swim coach as my head came out of the water. The entire gym remained silent as I climbed out of the pool and began climbing the ladder to the diving board, water running down my legs. I stretched my arms forward, propped my left leg backward, and launched myself off the board, curving my back to land perfectly and swiftly into the water. Every time I hit the water, I would open my eyes to see a flurry of bubbles prance around me, sometimes popping against my face. As soon as I reached the surface I was greeted with an appreciation, “Good job”. I went and grabbed my towel, while drying off I realized that completing the basic dive perfectly was only one step towards my goal of winning the Sydney Youth Swimming competition downtown. If I was going to win, I needed to work on the water style dive, a dive my family has been known to be excellent at. I dropped my towel and climbed back up the diving board.
By the time mom picked me up my hair was a crusty mess, sticking up more than I would have liked. “Anything exciting happen during swim lessons?”, my mom asked when I opened the door. There it was, that one question that parents seem to love asking, I didn’t know what to say, so I said what I always did, ”Coach Hemingway said I did better than I did last time, she said I might actually have a chance at this competition!”, I said cheerfully. Mom clapped, I didn’t like lying to her, but she was putting aside money for this competition, and I didn’t want to let her down by telling her that I just barely completed the basic skill needed to do pretty much anything.
As soon as we arrived home I ran to my bedroom and into the bathroom, “I think I’m in a green apple mood today”, I say as I select a green apple bath bomb from my collection of scents. Turning on the water and watching it run, thoughts crossed my mind about the contest.15 years in a row, members of my family competed downtown, winning each year. This year being the 16th, now it was my turn, I sigh and drop the bath bomb into the now full bathtub, watching it dissolve in the water. As soon as the last of the bubbles disappear, I climb in, the water sloshing against my pale olive skin. “Honey?”, Mom knocked on the door, “Yes Mom?”, I responded, “Me and your father want to talk to you during dinner”, great, ”Okay Mom”, I quickly said, a talk is never good. I closed my eyes and think of ocean waves, listening for her steps as she goes down the hall.
The moment my footsteps hit the floor of the dining room, all eyes are on me. I immediately look away and begin helping Mom pass the plates and silverware. Looks like Steak is for dinner today I realize, as I pass down steak knives. As we all sit down I feel Dad look at me from the corner of the table, a sad, almost disappointed look on his face. This talk is going to go fabulous, I think, being pessimistic. “Serenity, me and your father have something to tell you”, I do a sharp intake of breath, preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best. “We… decided not to let you compete in the Sydney Youth contest this year”. All goes silent, all sounds of cutting steak and metal hitting glass stop. “What?”, I said, my voice almost small. “You see, your mother and I can’t afford the entry cost-”, dad chimes in, being cut off, “Henry!”, Mom said sternly. “Why can’t we afford it?” I responded, a lump forming in my throat, “Honey, I’m going to be honest with you, I lost my job”, dad says, clearly continuing his previous sentence. I got up from the table and walked to my room, feeling the walls with my hands, trying to calm myself. Once I reached my room, I laid down and go to sleep, knowing that by tomorrow I’ll have already let the situation go.
I woke up in the late afternoon, the sun shining on my black blankets. I let my feet gently touch the floor as I get up, propping my pillows in their place and making my bedding. As soon as I finished, I heard footsteps coming toward my room. Already remembering the conversation during dinner yesterday, I quickly grabbed some clothes from my dresser and ran to my bathroom, shutting the door. I heard my bedroom door creak opened as soon as I locked the bathroom door, ”Are you already awake Wren?”, Mom asked, ”Yes I am”, I responded in an almost aggressive tone. I heard Mom’s sigh and leave the room, leaving me be. I changed into my clothes and deposited my dirty pajamas in the laundry hamper. I grabbed my cell phone, swimsuit, and towel, as I rushed, almost tumbling down the stairs as I make a break for the door, being careful not to be seen by either parent otherwise Serenity Jane Trueheart can kiss that pool trip goodbye. As I locked the front door from outside shut, I heard Mom come down the stairs. I sprinted to the far end of the block and text her saying I went for a walk. I disliked lying to her, but if I was going to calm down from last night, I needed to swim. Truth be told I didn’t know why I wasn’t over it, I should’ve been excited or happy to be relieved of the stress and pressure of winning the contest, but I wasn’t.
I reached the recreation center pool and checked in, it’s not the same pool that I take lessons at, but it’ll do. I went to the girls locker room and changed into my bathing suit, shoving my street clothes into the locker. As I approached the pool, I see coach Hemingway, not her, I think, not now. “Serenity, can I talk to you for a second?”, she asked, clearly already having noticed me, I nodded. She led me back to the lockers, “I knew you’d come here. Serenity, your mother explained to me about the contest”, she started, “I understand she can’t afford it right now, but.. I can”, my expression quickly changed from slightly annoyed to dumbfounded, “What?” I immediately said, “I’m willing to give you the money to enter”, she responded, “but only on one condition”. Seeing that my attention was on her, she went on, ”You need to promise me you’ll win this”, she smirked, and I smirked right back, ”I will coach, you won’t be disappointed”, I said, “I know I won’t”, she murmured. She pulled the money from her side pocket, placed it in my hand. My sour mood immediately evaporated into pure happiness, I placed the money in my locker and I ran to the diving board ladder near the pool. For the next 4 hours, I practiced the water style dive, getting closer to perfecting it with every jump. To think I would complete it in 1 day is a miracle, but I still needed to continue practicing.
The moment I reached home I’m bombarded with questions about my whereabouts, Mom and dad clearly thankful, worried, and frustrated all at once. Admitting that I lied, I told them it was for a good cause, I showed them the wad of cash and told them that I’m still in the competition, that I’m still swimming. Before I know it I’m trapped in their embrace, they didn’t care that I was in the competition, they were just thankful that I was safe. When they let go, I went upstairs to my room and write down the date for the contest, 2 days from today, it’s too close, but maybe that’s why I was so disappointed that I couldn’t go, that is until Coach Hemingway gave me the money. From that day on, it was nonstop practice, I continued to meet coach Hemingway until the very hour that the contest was going start, landing in the water, I was able to relax myself, and prepare for the aggressive opponents I would face within minutes.
“Are you ready for this?”, Coach Hemingway asked, “as ready as I’ll ever be”, I responded, as I walk out to the line made up of competitors, I noticed my parents in the crowd. Their faces gave me reassurance that what I wanted most, was within reach, everything, popularity gained from winning the contest, the trophy I would receive, the praise, all of it, was nearly wrapped around my finger. I just needed to focus, keep my eyes forward. It took a half hour before it was turn to dive off the board, the judges stared at me blankly from afar, writing on their boards and preparing to score me on my diving form. I slowly climbed the ladder, taking in the view that surrounded me. As soon as I reached the top, I felt my legs shake. Stop it I command myself, and instantly I’m composed. I stepped up to the very front of the board, put my arms forward, prop my left leg backward, stared forward, and jumped off the board. As I watched the surface of the water get bigger, the adrenaline pumping through my veins, I bent my back backward, flipped, put my arms forward again, and landed swiftly in the water. As I slowly floated back up, I saw my reflection on the surface, my hair surrounding my face, my calm expression, my soft green eyes. I reached toward the surface, almost feeling a sense of power as I come up from the water, hoping I accomplished my goals, hoping… and I did, as I arise from the water, I hear shouts, clapping, screams, and when I looked at the judges, I understood why. Perfect score of 10 is what I received, all three judges had scribbled on their board a perfect score of 10. I’m immediately given a towel, a bag full of lunch, a free restaurant meal certificate, and a beautiful, shiny golden trophy. I’m lifted up into the air by all of my opponents, and the coach Hemingway, each of them screaming congratulations over the loud buzz of the crowd. As I was being carried, as I was being praised, I thanked everyone for everything, and as I got down, my parents came toward me, and I was given a kiss on each cheek while they smiled brightly. I’m still swimming.